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Non-Review Review: Goon

Goon is a movie that works surprisingly well. It’s hilarious, brutal, and yet surprisingly sweet. It’s the quintessential sports movie, featuring a plucky young protagonist trying to find his place in the world, while developing his one sporting talent, but it never feels as coy or manipulative as other movies of that type. A large portion of the credit for that charm has to go to Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg for their witty and incredibly quotable script, but I think that most of the movie’s success rests on Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, the eponymous goon.

He's a blood mess...

Hockey is a fascinating game, when you think about it. On one hand, it’s a sport that requires considerable grace and skill, as players have to keep their balance while tracking and controlling a tiny puck, weaving in and out of oncoming hazards. On the other hand, it requires and encourages incredible brutality to compliment that grace and skill, with players ramming into one another, a lethal puck flying through the air at tremendous speed, and even all-out fisticuffs breaking out from time to time. It’s a wonderful contrast, as the game requires its players to move with the poise and control of Olympic figure-skaters, while asking them to brawl like boxers.

And the movie captures that inherent conflict beautifully. It’s all in there – the skilful choreography and the brutal beatdowns. The athletes move with practiced technique, engaging in something as complex as a ballet, while teeth rattle across the rink and blood stains the ice. The film isn’t afraid of either extreme, and it’s to the credit of director Michael Dowse that it never pulls back. The conflicts are brutal, and the make-up and sound effects conspire to make sure that we feel every single second of it. It’s impressive, and I don’t think the film would work so well if Dowse didn’t demonstrate the ridiculous amounts of open wounds and black eyes and burst lips. It stands in such sharp contrast to the delicate balance and careful elegance that the act of ice-skating seems to require.

Ice him!

Of course, as much as Dowse might do an excellent job highlighting the incredibly wonderful absurdity of hockey, the film has to have more to it than that. I could never bring myself to hate Seann William Scott, despite his involvement in films like Southland Tales and Bulletproof Monk. With Goon, I feel somewhat vindicated, as the actor turns in a great leading performance as Doug Glatt, the “goon” and the “thug” who… isn’t quite all there. Doug’s job is to be as brutal on the rink as possible – to engage in fights for cheering fans, to occupy the penalty box, to defend his team’s star players.

The character’s arc is fairly obvious. Goon isn’t exactly revolutionary in that regard. We know that Doug will question what he does, and attempt to find something that’s more fulfilling. We know the movie will end with Doug either finding something better or ending up feeling vindicated in his current station. It’s the standard plot for these types of films, but Doug himself actually makes the movie infinitely more fascinating. He’s incredibly dumb, but also incredibly good-natured. “You ready, kid?” an opponent taunts him at one point. “Yes,” Doug politely replies, “thank you for asking.” After one rather business-man like conflict, he remarks of his opposite number, “What a nice guy.”

Bringing his "A" game...

The script does an excellent job characterising Doug, but it’s up to William Scott to bring the character to life. It’s easy to imagine Doug being incredibly irritating or creepy or shallow, a cheap butt of every joke. Instead, William Scott actually finds a great deal of heart in the character, who clearly has the right idea, if not necessarily the words to express it. I remarked earlier that the movie is quite quotable, and a great deal of that dialogue comes from Doug himself, delivered with wonderful timing. There’s none of the smart ass, cheeky and occasionally irritating characterisation that William Scott has been known to use in the past, and I hope that this might help the actor broaden his horizons and breakout of the niche he seems to have carved out for himself.

There are problems, but they’re easy enough to overlook. As wonderful as Doug is, and as brilliantly as he’s brought to life, the supporting cast ends up feeling relatively flat. It’s not that the actors aren’t solid – most are great – it’s just that the script doesn’t seem interested in any of them. The object of Doug’s affection, Eva, for example, isn’t given any real depth, despite a solid performance from Alison Pill. Similarly, it’s strange to see Doug’s parents arrive and state their disapproval, only to leave almost immediately and never return. On the other hand, it’s nice to see Eugene Levy play a role relatively straight. I get the sense that this was a plot thread left dangling, but I suppose it’s at least a bit different that his parents don’tcome back into it at the end.

Liev him be...

Only Liev Schreiber manages to develop his character beyond a shallow cutout, playing a much old “goon” on the opposite end of his career. The interactions between Schreiber and William Scott, particularly as Schreiber’s character tries to impart life advice on Doug, who isn’t smart enough to pick up on it, are some of the most touching bits of the film – even as characters brutalise each other and cough up teeth. I know I mentioned the teeth thing before, but there’s a lot of teeth in it.

I really liked Goon, which is probably the best sporting comedy in quite some time. I’m looking forward to more like this from William Scott, who really makes the film work as well as it does.

One Response

  1. Not a big fan of sports movies and have nothing with ice hockey, so I probably will skip it. I do like William Scott though (although I think the characters he usually plays aren’t for everyone).

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